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Suffolk Closeup: A job well done by DuWayne Gregory

That’s a wrap for DuWayne Gregory as a Suffolk County legislator. Until the start of this year, he had been presiding officer of the Legislature, first elected to the post in 2014 by his fellow legislators. 

But because of term limits, Mr. Gregory, a Democrat from Copiague, chose to give up his legislative seat as of Jan. 15 to become a member of the Babylon Town Board. He was reelected to the seat this past November. It would have been his sixth two-year term, the maximum for county legislators as set by a 1993 countywide referendum. 

There are positives and negatives to term limits. They provide new blood but they eliminate some good officeholders. The latter is the case with Mr. Gregory.

As he explained, he “looked around” to see what elected governmental position he might transition to at the end of his last term. There seemed to be no county or state spots. So, he decided to take an appointment to the town board position held by Jackie Gordon, also a Democrat. She stepped down to campaign for the congressional seat held by Republican Peter King, who is retiring.

As presiding officer of the Legislature — considered the number two post in Suffolk County government after county executive — Mr. Gregory has been in one of the highest positions held by an African-American in Suffolk history. 

Rob Colarco of Patchogue was elected to replace him as presiding officer at the Legislature’s organizational meeting as 2020 began. Mr. Colarco, a Democrat from Patchogue, had been deputy presiding officer since 2016. In his acceptance speech, he praised Mr. Gregory for having “deftly led this body.” 

Mr. Gregory, in a statement about his departure, said: “Certain experiences become a part of who you are at your core. They change you, shape you, and prepare you for what’s coming next. And you carry them with you forever. My time on the Suffolk County Legislature is one of those experiences. I have spent the past 11 years here, first as a legislative aide and then as a legislator … as well as the presiding officer. I have loved every minute of my county service, but it is time for me to move on … I am grateful and excited for this opportunity in Babylon to continue serving the public in a place I know and love. In many ways, this new adventure is like going home. I got my start in government by working for the Town of Babylon in constituent services.”

In an interview, Mr. Gregory recounted how “I grew up in Central Islip, graduated Central Islip High School in 1987, went to North Carolina Wesleyan College and was in the ROTC.” He joined the Army after graduation, rising to the rank of first lieutenant. Then he returned to Suffolk and became special assistant for constituent services in Babylon. He moved on to other town positions, to the legislative aide spot, and in 2008 ran for the Suffolk Legislature.

As an African-American in Suffolk, he has encountered racism. He told of “walking home from high school and a man sitting on his porch called me the n-word” and ordered his dog to attack young Gregory, who was bitten. Or the time in constituent services “I got a phone call from a woman in West Babylon who complained, ‘This black family moved on to my street. What can the town do about it?” He emphasized to the woman, “‘Ma’m, people have a right to live.’ She thought the town had a responsibility to discriminate against black people.”

As leader of the Suffolk Legislature, he had many accomplishments. Among them: creating a Next Generation Advisory Council “to get input from millennials;” establishing a Suffolk County Land Bank to spur clean-ups and put blighted property back on the tax rolls; “video-streaming of legislative committee meetings” to provide “more transparency”; forming a Superstorm Sandy Review Committee to review “progress” after the storm and identify “what work needs to be done;” establishing a Youth Anti-Bullying Task Force “made up of high school students;” and forming a Marine Industry Revitalization Advisory Council “to protect and promote Suffolk’s $1.6-billion marine industry.” 

And there was more.

Perhaps most importantly, Mr. Gregory made sure the Legislature was independent of the county executive. “I believe in the institution of legislature as a separate branch of government and not subservient to the administration,” he noted, “We have to stay strong with that.” And, “on more than one occasion, I pushed back against the [county] executive.”

He will be missed on the county level.